“The 2016 campaign is already underway!”

I didn’t write those words in a paroxysm of political-blogger wishful thinking. No, that sentence was crafted — exclamation mark and all — by one “Super Dave” Sunderland, chair of the Vermont Republican Party. It’s the closing line in a fundraising pitch that’s posted on the VTGOP website and, I’m sure, spammed to every Vermonter on its contact list.

So much for the Vermont tradition, more honored in the breach than the observance, that campaign season won’t start until the Legislature adjourns in the spring of 2016.

What Super Dave means, of course, is that he needs your money right now to begin the long build toward 2016. But in another, equally real, way, the Republicans have begun the 2016 campaign in earnest — with their words and their newly aggressive attitude.

Donkey walks into a bar, says "I'll have a Heady Topper." Bartender says, "Sorry, you elitist snob. We only serve Bud."

Donkey walks in, says “I’ll have a Heady Topper.” Bartender says, “Hit the road, you elitist snob. We only serve Bud.”

It started with their big post-election news conference on Nov. 7, in which the Party’s top elective officials got together to call for the immediate dismantling of Vermont Health Connect. (Leaving aside, for this narrative, the unfeasibility of the idea and the curious incident of the Milne in the night-time.) It was a deliberately confrontational opening move for a party still on the short end of lopsided legislative majorities. I took it as a signal that the VTGOP was feelin’ its oats.

At the same presser, some GOPers expressed interest in further exploring The Milne Theorem, an unproven assertion postulating that 87,075 is greater than 89,509. Scott Milne had first floated the trial balloon a couple days earlier; that news conference was the first outward sign of broader support for his unlikely proposition. And a sign that the Republicans were (like a pro wrestler looking under the ring for the folding chairs and kendo sticks that are always, curiously, stashed there) eagerly grabbing for whatever weapons they could find to whack the Democrats.

A few days later came the annual meeting of the Vermont Rail Action Network, a chance for politicians to promote and/or give lip service to rail travel. As reported by outgoing State Rep. Mike McCarthy on Green Mountain Daily, Gov. Shumlin was there and did his duty, giving “a rousing speech about rail and cross-border trains.”

And then Mr. Nice Guy, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, took the mic:

The room of about 150 railroad officials, government agencies, and legislators was a little surprised that instead of talking about rail, Lt. Governor Scott focused solely on last week’s election and slammed “Montpelier” for not listening to Vermonters.  I guess this is what the beginning of a 2016 gubernatorial run looks like: No More Mr. Nice Phil.

McCarthy pronounced himself “shocked” that Scott “for the first time in his political life seemed to have gone tone deaf.”

Granted, Mike McCarthy is fresh off an electoral defeat and might be feeling a little bitter, but he’s generally a reliable correspondent.

I’m guessing that Phil Scott’s been giving himself a few dope-slaps since Election Night. It’s very easy to imagine him imagining himself winning the governorship. Has that experience suddenly got him yearning for the corner office, and sharpening his message and his political profile for the first time in his soft-jazz political career? It would seem so.

More coming shortly in this space.


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